I wanted to end Women’s Money Week with this amazing story of financial resiliency. I was approached by this young yet totally mature lady about her experiences growing up and taking care of her family since she was a young child. I’m not talking about being a caregiver in the traditional sense, she was actually doing all the bills and such even though her parents worked and was physically fine!
The following was told in her own words which I transcribed.
When I was kid, I was the one who ran the household. In the strict Asian family I come from, usually the females end up taking care of everything. So that fell to me.
I wasn’t the oldest which made it weird. But by the time my mom remarried again and we moved, my siblings and half-brothers and half-sisters had moved out, so I was the oldest one in the house. It was a really weird transition and I remember helping out with my younger siblings and new ones too that were my stepfathers.
Life wasn’t easy for me back then. Actually, let me correct that. It was a lot of pressure. My parents were not good with money all. It’s that they didn’t earn a lot of money, it was that they just didn’t know how to spend it carefully. We would get an allowance of sorts but they’d immediately regret. Or they would complain about not having money, but my mom would come home from a trip to the mall.
There were lots of times when I would get yelled at for spending money on stuff. I would get lectures on what it meant to save money and I was terrible with it. Now, keep in mind I was in elementary school and had no idea what this all meant, but I truly believed that I was bad with money, whatever that meant. Every time we went grocery shopping, I would hear comments from my parents about how expensive things were and we never had enough money. So I always believed I had to be more careful with money or I’d lose it all.
I remember many times when I would starve. Now it wasn’t my parents that wouldn’t give me food, it was that I felt so pressured to “save money” that I wouldn’t spend my lunch money so I could save it. When I’d come home and tell them how much I saved, it was taken or I’d get yelled at about how my mom would look bad. I couldn’t win.
As the years went on I was forced to pay the bills. My mom used her lack of English as an excuse. I remember going to the library to look up terminology so I could understand medical bills and what it meant to pay interest on a loan. And if we didn’t have enough money to cover the bills, it was my fault.
We would also get calls from collectors and I would be the one to handle the calls. No asking, the phone was just handed to me. Again, something about the lack of English knowledge as an excuse.
But I will say I learned a lot about how the medical system worked at that time. I learned how complicated the billing system is and we almost paid twice the amount owed. I also learned how to talked to debt collectors and balance a paycheck. Yeah, it wasn’t fun to be forced into these things, but in retrospect I do appreciate learning the lesson at such a young age.
I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t resent my parents. I did. I pretty much had no social life in high school because I had to take care of my younger siblings, or I felt so guilty about spending on myself. I spent many Saturday nights clipping coupons and sitting in the dark. Not to sound literal, but those were dark times.
I also knew that I was determined enough to get out of this situation. Now, I wasn’t in love with school, but I knew that getting a college degree would help me earn more in the future. It was a bit upsetting though, knowing my parents wouldn’t be able to help me. I was pretty adamant not to take out any loans because of how horrible it was for me to go through what I did to help my parents out with their debt.
I worked my butt off during college, and didn’t apply to school right away. Instead, I enrolled in a local community college where I knew those credits would transfer over. When I finally did go to a college, I didn’t choose a private one. They also offered courses at the community college I went to before which I took advantage of. I realized that the courses were pretty much the same but much cheaper. I think I saved about half that way.
I was still helping my parents out with their bills, but I finally had enough. I wasn’t happy where I was living and just needed to be physically away from them. I love them, don’t get me wrong, but they’re the adults and put me in a crappy situation. So when I graduated I moved across the US and got settled there.
My parents still call me about bills, but now I try to answer their questions quickly and point them to people in their community they can ask for help. I’m done being their crutch. I need to look out for me and not feel the burden of responsibility anymore.
But I guess what I’ve learned throughout all this is to learn to be really responsible with my finances. I have a day job and a side hustle. I don’t spend money on frivolous purchases. And I’m totally ok with saving up for a rainy day.
I just hope to those out there in a similar situation as me know that it is possible to get out of it. That being resentful isn’t going to help. I do feel bad I’m not close to my parents, but I did what was best for me. And you need to do what’s best for you too.
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